Parties' battle lines drawn - Saturday Star

Mar 09, 2019
9 March 2019 - All parties will pour a huge amount of resources into Gauteng. Of all the provincial battlegrounds, it is simply too close to call. And every vote will count for every party.

Gareth van Onselen

The big contest to watch in the 8 May election is Gauteng, where, if current trends hold, all three parties could form a coalition – the ANC and the DA, the DA and the EFF or the ANC and the EFF.

All three major parties will likely pore huge resources into this fight.

The second key battle will be in the Western Cape, where the DA’s majority is looking very fragile.

These are some of the key points to emerge from the second full survey of the electoral landscape released this week by the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), supplementing its September 2018 poll and a “snap poll” conducted by the institute in December.

We polled 1 611 registered voters nationally and conducted two sub-samples for the Western Cape and Gauteng. 

But before getting to results, it is important to briefly explain the methodology. The national margin of error was 3.3%. For the Western Cape sample it was 5.8% and for Gauteng, 3.8%. The poll was conducted by phone and was in the field from 12 to 26 February. We allocated “undecided” voters (around 6%) to a party by looking at their responses to other party favourability questions.

Importantly, this poll is not a prediction. It is merely an assessment of where the electoral market stood during the last two weeks of February. Things can still change.

The IRR’s findings at a national level were that the ANC was on 54.7%, the DA on 21.8% and the EFF on 12.2%.

This means the ANC is down a bit (1.3 percentage points) from December, when it was on 56%, but support for both the DA and EFF has recovered a bit from the end of last year. The DA is up 3.1 percentage points from 18% and the EFF is up 1.2 percentage points from 11%.

The thing is, any poll assumes 100% turnout – because everyone’s view is recorded. On Election Day, however, not everyone votes. In 2014 there was a 73% turnout. So the IRR generated some turnout scenarios, to see what happens when apathetic voters – those least likely to vote – are taken out of the pool.

On a 71% turnout scenario, the ANC stands at 55%, the DA 24% and the EFF 11%. Thus, as of February, lower turnout would seem to help the DA most at a national level.

But the really interesting findings were at provincial level, in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

The situation in Gauteng, in particular, is intriguing. Our February poll put the ANC on 41.6% on the provincial ballot. And although the party’s support does increase to 47% on 71% turnout, that is still not enough for a majority. We put the DA on 32.4% and the EFF on 18.2% in that province.

This means that all three parties could form a coalition if these trends hold until the election: the ANC and the DA, the DA and the EFF and the ANC and the EFF. If that comes to pass, it is going to make for some fascinating politics, given how fraught coalition relations have been between the EFF and DA in places like Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.

In the Western Cape, the DA’s majority is looking very fragile. We put the party on 50.1% on the provincial ballot. It is important to note that support for the DA does grow to 54% on 74% turnout, so that will be of some comfort to the DA – but not much. It is cutting things fine as things stand.

The IRR puts the ANC on 33.9% in the Western Cape. The EFF doesn’t really feature in the province, but smaller parties like the ACDP and the FF+ do appear to be experiencing some small growth.

New parties like Patricia de Lille’s Good Movement and the ATM party did not feature in the poll in a prominent way. Good polled at 2.5% in the Western Cape and just 0.6% nationally. The ATM did not register at all.

It would appear from the poll that the EFF is the only party at a national level to be able to make direct inroads into the ANC’s support base. Both parties seem locked in a battle for around 5% to 10% of alienated black ANC voters, and where that small pool of voters end up on 8 May will determine the fate of each party.

If the ANC can win the bulk of those voters back, it will likely end up closer to 60%. If the EFF can hold onto them, it could end around 12%, which would be a huge relative increase from the 6.3% it secured in 2014.

The DA’s vote seems relatively stable. It seems to be between a band of approximately 20% and 24%. If it has a good election it could get to, or just above, 24%. A bad election and it might fail to exceed the 22% it secured in 2014.

But the DA’s main mission – particularly in the Western Cape – will be to win back its existing support base from smaller parties and enthuse its base, rather than winning new support and growing beyond the 59% it secured in the province in 2014.

There are a lot of factors that will come into play in the last eight weeks of the election campaign. Among them, we will start to see the bigger parties roll out a steady stream of radio and TV adverts – which can have a powerful effect on undecided voters. The more money you have, the greater the effect. So the last few weeks tend to favour the bigger parties.

That said, the scene is set for a range of interesting possibilities. As things stand, the EFF looks like the front-runner in being the only one of the big three parties to secure some big and meaningful growth. And whatever the ANC’s final result, it looks like it is going to be hard pressed to match the 62% it secured in 2014.

All parties will pour a huge amount of resources into Gauteng. Of all the provincial battlegrounds, it is simply too close to call. And every vote will count for every party.

If the ANC drops below 50%, expect all sorts of machinations, as the big three parties try to solve the conundrum of a workable, sustainable and effective coalition that can govern Gauteng without the sort of chaos we have seen at local government level.

Gareth van Onselen is head of politics and governance at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), and author of The Criterion Report released this week, based on the poll results. Read the full report at

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